Lavish Costuming and Sets Transport Music Man

June 12, 2013

Spring Mountain Ranch

Super Summer Theatre’s “The Music Man” premiered with visual and musical glory that rivaled the golden sunset itself.

The timeless and well-known story was brought to life by Huntsman Entertainment’s high production values and astounding investment in the visual elements, which framed and matched the musical talent endemic in the cast.

"Music Man"
“Music Man” at Super Summer Theatre

The costumes were beautiful in design, construction, and materials. Constant costumes changes gave a fresh and eye-inspiring feel to every scene. The opening black-and-white palette gave way to an explosion of color half-way through the show.  The costumes were intricately designed, down to bloomers under the skirts.

The detailed sets were a feast of turn-of-the-century colors, shades, and architectural detailing. The huge backdrop channeled antique parchment, while the bridge’s sculptured-stone façade was perfectly convincing, as were the portals’ faux-brick treatment.

The choreography was lively and well-rehearsed. Parts closely resembled the movie choreography, and all were nicely staged and exciting to watch.

There were many charming moments in the show that make it very memorable (they won’t be revealed here).

This was a classic presentation of a timeless, family-friendly musical, with production values far beyond what one would dream of in a community production; that is the magic that so many wonderful theatrical groups bring to Las Vegas, now including Huntsman Entertainment.  This show splendidly brought the joy of musical theater to the Super Summer Theatre audience.

Rating: A- (=go see it!)

Ages: all.

“Company” Bursts with Talent

July 10, 2012, LVH Showroom (formerly Las Vegas Hilton)

A dream team of Las Vegas singers and musicians celebrated the sounds of Sondheim on one of the most venerable stages in town.

The one-time home of legends Elvis and Barry Manilow played host to this two-night revival of the 1970s Broadway hit “Company”, a wrenching examination  of marriage and relationships.


Dozens of local Las Vegas singer-actors and musicians banded together to resurrect this deeply-emotional musical.  The cast was a who’s-who of current and former lead singers from 30 years of Las Vegas theater and production shows.

The singers shone at every moment– belting and cooing, vocally cavorting (and sometimes, physically cavorting) to bring to life each different character.


The singers also acted their socks off, committing to their characters so completely that the audience physically experienced the anguish and longing they were expressing.

The lighting was beautiful and dramatic.

The orchestra was breathtaking. A 22-piece orchestra played the score live — what a treat!  Bassoon, oboe, tympani, and xylophone graced center stage along with a 10-piece string section.  Bill Fayne, musical director and conductor, guided the tuxedoed musicians with expertise, subtlety and passion.  Quite a thrill for anyone who studied music or previously experienced a Broadway-caliber orchestra, and a fabulous introduction for anyone who had not.

Winds section from "Company"
Winds section of orchestra in “Company”

“Side By Side By Side” was a standout number because of the energy, humor and playfulness amongst the singers.  The choreography was effective, supported the message of the song, was well-rehearsed and sharply-performed by the singers, adding a delightful visual element.

Unfortunately, some slow scene transitions and pauses in dialogue hindered the pace of the show.

The singers’ black attire, in front of the black background on the LVH stage, had the regrettable effect of disappearing their bodies and movements.  There was good use of the levels of the stage platform by the cast to differentiate scenes, yet the platform was far away from the audience and the cast would have been more visible had they worn brighter-colored clothing.

Transitions and wardrobe would almost certainly be worked out in a longer run of the show; it is incredible difficult to tweak these things to perfection in only two shows.

Despite these challenges, this production presented a Broadway show that was bursting with talent and fantastic performances from the entire cast, and demonstrated, once again, that the theatrical and music community in Las Vegas has both the depth and passion required to present nationally-known shows at an impressive level.

Audience: age 8 and up

Rating: A

Marta Becket Ends 43-Year Run at Amargosa Opera House

“The Sitting Down Show” (closing night),  Amargosa Opera House, February 12, 2012

The desert ballerina has retired.

Marta Becket
Marta Becket

Marta Becket, the dedicated performer who brought the Amargosa Opera House back to life with her one-woman dance-mime shows, gave her final public performance on Sunday February 12.  Though she no longer can dance, she sat regally on a throne-like chair with costume pieces and props in easy reach, and shared her memories of her life in Death Valley Junction.  She acted out real-life characters that populated her adopted town, as well as fictional characters from musicals she had conceived, composed and danced.  Her memory was relentless, and her wit fully intact.  She demonstrated that her passion for art, music and dance is matched only by her keen observation of people around her and her comedic storytelling.  She was luminous, entrancing, and consummately entertaining.

Ms. Becket was a performer in well-known Broadway productions in the 1940s, yet by the late 1950s she felt her artistic options drying up in New York.  She created solo shows that toured around the country.  In 1968 she inadvertently discovered the abandoned hall at Death Valley Junction when her car got a flat tire nearby.  She refurbished the hall over time, painting every inch of the inside with richly-detailed murals of a royal medieval audience.

Amargosa Opera House, view of the house from the stage
Amargosa Opera House, view of the house from the stage. Murals by Marta Becket.

Ms. Becket labored at her art – including dance, piano, singing, composing, writing, painting – in a place most performers would not feel comfortable.  Far from a metropolis, cultural mecca, famous theaters, devoted art lovers, and other artists.  She had none of the support upon which most artists thrive or depend – neither from wealthy patrons, nor celebrated dance companies, nor an artistic community.  She created her art in the vast openness of Death Valley.  Completely alone, entirely un-networked.

She proved that it doesn’t matter where you do it; it matters that you are doing it.

Ms. Becket brought art to the desert, to people who had never seen it before, who never thought they desired to.  She planted the seed.  It didn’t grow big, but it grew strong and held on, like desert sage brush.  Audiences never forgot her shows.

She didn’t let geographic status erode her passion or dilute her vision.  She claimed the emptiness of the valley, and the opera house, as her blank canvas.  And she created her art on her own terms.

She did what she wanted, where she wanted.

Detail of Amargosa Opera House murals
Detail of Amargosa Opera House murals

Discarding the group-think of the New York arts crowd (that Manhattan was the only desirable locale for true artists), Ms. Becket asserted a bold notion: art is art, no matter where it’s created.

That insight freed her to explore and express all her talents.

She didn’t need tuxedoed audiences, thousand-seat theaters, employment in world-renowned companies, million-dollar sets — or even a stage crew — to validate her sense of being an artist and performer.  She found a space in which to revel in her own creativity and style, unencumbered by the strict expectations of the artistic and show business communities in large cities. As she wrote in her original lyrics, “No longer a slave to theatrical tradition; I’ve found my place in the sun.”

Of course, she was often unencumbered by an audience to see her work.  Many nights, when no one came to her scheduled performance, she danced only for the royalty in her hand-painted murals.  Yet, she always felt that joy of being onstage.  She was happy.

Detail of Amargosa Opera House murals
Detail of Amargosa Opera House murals. Words on parchment read: "The walls of this theater and I dedicate these murals to the past, without which our times would have no beauty".

She performed not for money, fame, status or recognition, but for the joy of creating — that transcendent fulfillment that results from planning, rehearsing, creating concepts, constructing sets and props, and coordinating all of it to convey a story of human desire or experience.  Like a writer composing a book, she was never sure if anyone would see her work or care for it.  Undeterred, she continued to dream and create, because that was what her soul yearned to do.

Ms. Beckett lived her soul.

Vegas Vaudeville: Songsters, Hoofers and High-Class Stage Actors

At CSN’s Nicholas J Horn Theater, Sept 16, 2011

What images does the word “vaudeville” flash in your mind?  Scenes from “Singin’ in the Rain” of comedic violin duets?  Or maybe Bob Hope slap-stick skits? Soft-shoe dancing? Eclectic magicians?  If so, you would have felt in your element at the recent “Vegas Vaudeville”, which the Lion King cast presented at the Horn Theater.

Vegas Vaudeville: Singer/dancer Deidre Lang
Singer/Dancer Deidre Lang; dancers Robert Knowles and Jarrett Kelly

Reviving the classic vaudeville structure – the original variety show – this production presented actors, singers, dancers, magicians and specialty acts in an atmosphere of rollicking humor and punnery (a new word, invented by me about 7 seconds ago.  Now, if I can just get it on the Colbert Report, it might make it into Merriam-Webster by next year…).  The production was kept to a PG-rating, allowing audience members of all ages to enjoy the entertainment.

Vegas Vaudeville
Vegas Vaudeville. Photo credit: MaryAnn.

In the spirit of the original vaudeville shows from the time of the Depression, a genuine ham was given to one lucky audience member.  Yes, a ham.

In a further nod to customs of the time, the show ended on a heart-felt, rousing patriotic note.

Vegas Vaudeville: Escape Artist "The Elusive Mr. Lex"
Escape artist "The Elusive Mr. Lex"

An exceptionally-fake, large hairy primate made a guest appearance, attempting to sweep a sweet dancer away from her human crush; a sign-changing chorine morphed into a teasing coquette with one last surprise up her, ahem, sleeve; singers of tremendous talent belted and serenaded all manner of songs; comedic magicians, glass-eating stilt-walkers, an escape artist and a pearl-draped tap dancer shared their unique obsessions —  all linked and segued by the limitless talent of a ukulele-playing, rhythm-footed crooner and all-around jokester MC.

Vegas Vaudeville: singer/dancer Deidrea Halley
Singer/Dancer Deidrea Halley

“Vegas Vaudeville” was consummate, innocent, silly fun – for the cast, as well as for the audience. “Vegas Vaudeville” may be presented again in Las Vegas in the near future, so make sure you don’t miss it.

Disclosure: This blogger may have been the chorine sign-changer in “Vegas Vaudeville”, choreographed a dance number and served as the publicist.  OK, she actually was.  But she wrote about it in a pretty unbiased way, eh?

Vegas Vaudeville
Vegas Vaudeville: Songsters, Hoofers and High-Class Stage Actors

Golden Rainbow’s “Ribbon of Life” 25th Year

I stopped by the tech rehearsal for Ribbon of Life today, and had the chance to see the first half of the show.  Looks like another terrific show with top-notch talent from around the city!

The show features comedy, dance, singing and personalities galore.  Edie, the MC from Zumanity (and a past host of Broadway Bares), hosts the show, providing introductions and banter between acts.  There will be a live band and original numbers from such shows as “Jubilee!”, “Fantasy” and “Peepshow”.

The opening dance number is a rousing rendition of “I Hope I Get It” from “A Chorus Line” featuring dozens of “Strip alumni” (dancers and singers who performed in big production shows on the Las Vegas Strip in the last 25 years).

Golden Rainbow's "Ribbon of Life" 2011
Golden Rainbow's "Ribbon of Life" 2011 Tech Rehearsal. Dozens of Strip alumni perform in "I Hope I Get It".

Another number features certain alumni and future performers of all ages, a real tribute to show biz peeps and their families.  Called “Heroes”, it creatively showcases alumni parents and their progeny as cartoon superheroes in a very fun way.

Future Performers in Training
Future Performers in Training

The “Fantasy” cast presents “Big Spender”; “The Lion King” cast brings to life “The Color Purple”; and the “Jubilee!” cast stages “Burlesque” the movie.

Be sure to attend the show on Sunday, June 26 at 1 p.m. at Paris Las Vegas (more info here.)  It’s an amazing mix of styles, performances and talent, and it’s all for a really great cause.

Jabbawockeez “Mus.I.C.”: Hip Hop Rocks!

At the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino

June 2011

Jabbawockeez "Mus.I.C."

They’ve done it!  Jabbawockeez have smashed the glass hip-hop ceiling and brought breakdancing, popping and locking to the legitimate stage.

The dreams of the movie characters in Breakin’ and Beat Street — to show the world that hip hop is a true dance and art form – have finally been brought to reality through the perseverance and artistry of this dance crew from California (Turbo and Ozone, rejoice!).

Jabbawockeez absolutely commands the stage with the precision, grace and explosiveness of their unique hip hop style.  And – unexpectedly – comedy!  The show was laced with unpredictable moments, and even skits, full of good-hearted humor.

The most striking element of the show was the storytelling.  Through mime, specific choreography and hand signals, the dancers communicated stories and messages that seemed all the more powerful because they did not involve spoken word.  In fact, they had no qualms about letting the music go quiet and telling their stories in utter silence on stage.  The Jabbawockeez were masters of physical acting and imitation.

The concept of the show, to “find the muse that inspires you” was a wholesome, universal theme.  The different facets of the show, from the sets to the framework of each number to the transitions and the stories told, were sophisticated and absorbing.  Directors Napoleon and Tabitha D’umo have done a solid job of creating a compelling and entertaining experience.

The choreography was constantly in flux, changing in style and tempo, reflecting and interweaving with the music.  This was another strong point about the performance – the choreography was a remarkable visualization of the music.  Each gesture fit the musical style and accented musical moments.  Each number was unique – no monotony to be found, anywhere.

Jabbawockeez onstage at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino
Jabbawockeez onstage at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino

The group’s dance style is “Beat Kune Do”, or hip hop freestyle, alluding to Bruce Lee’s eclectic martial arts “style of no style” Jeet Kune Do.  It is a feast for the eyes, and offers an ever-changing mixture of break dancing, uprocking, popping, locking, martial arts, parkour, acrobatics, jazz dance and mime. Some call it “lyrical hip hop”.

The intricacy of the movement was astounding – every joint, down to each finger, was precisely choreographed.  The dancers performed in superb synchronization, canon and opposition.  If you have ever danced, you can appreciate the high degree of training and dedication one needs to reach their level of ability and showmanship. If you haven’t ever danced, you will still be impressed by the athleticism and distinctive style. (Disclosure: this writer invested countless hours practicing popping, locking, and breakin’ with a crew local to her high school on Long Island in the early 80’s.  This stuff is not easy!)

The show was punctuated by unique touches, such as dancers being dragged off the stage by their feet, a hip hop rendition of the most popular movie musical in history, and a tribute to Leonardo da Vinci (no specific details will be revealed here, as the unpredictability of the show is part of its genius).

The soundtrack by The Bangerz, a medley of hip hop, rap, rock and pop from George Kranz to Beyonce, pumped up the excitement while helping to communicate the stories.

The masks?  Most people would assume that masks would hide emotion and make the dancers seem like cold, distant characters.  But the Jabbawockeez are so accomplished in body language that the masks became clean canvases upon which they projected many emotions.   More than once, the audience was convinced that certain masks had smiled, or frowned, or pursed their lips. The emotional conveyance was amplified by the masks, not hidden – an amazing feat, and proof of their astonishing command of bodily expression.

Jabbawockeez in different costumes from "Mus.I.C."

Dancers and dance groups have historically been anonymous, lacking fans, tours, big contracts or recognition.  Celebrity that is so quickly accorded to vocalists has been denied to dancers, especially hip hop and street dancers.  Appreciation and fame is rightly deserved by the Jabbawockeez.  They are as talented, artistically expressive and technically brilliant as the best dancers (and singers) of any other style in the world.

Jabbawockeez achieves the wish of generations of street-dancers:  to perform in a professional setting that spotlights hip hop’s power, diversity and evocativeness. They not only bring the street style and culture of hip hop to the big stage, they elevate it to an entertainment tour de force unparalleled in any other show in this country.

Jabbawockeez Mus.I.C is innovative and riveting on every level.  There is no show like this.  Anywhere.

Rating: A+

Audience:  All ages